Profile #13: Sushant Pandey – IoT entrepreneur & future Tokyo resident

Paul: Sushant Pandey is the founder of Scurid, a distributed digital identity platform bringing scalable security to the world of IoT. A Shibuya Startup Visa holder, Sushant will be relocating to Tokyo from his current base in Munich when Covid travel restrictions are lifted.

We spoke about Sushant's early interest in IT, his studies and career in Germany, founding Scurid, and moving to Japan.

Hi Sushant. Thanks for joining me today. Please tell me a little bit about yourself.

Sushant: I’m a tech lover coming from an engineering background with over 10 years of experience in product development & design, mostly software, but since 2018 I have been fiddling with hardware as well.

I did my Bachelor in Information Technology in New Delhi, India and my M.Sc. in Software Technology from the University of Applied Sciences Stuttgart.

I love a variety of sports – very fortunate to take part and finish one full marathon which was in Berlin, one of the World Marathon Majors, in 2019. Hope I can do a second in Tokyo.

Love reading (mostly non-fiction, though I do like robots and Sci-Fi), listening to music anything from Jazz/Blues to Hip-hop.

Why did you decide to study computer science?

From early childhood I had an interest in hardware, computers & adventure sports, a weird combination – I did spend some time with rock climbing and envisioned myself as a professional skydiver however somehow I ended up starting with computers first. 

I remember when I first got my hands on a desktop computer that my dad had bought for himself, it was majestic not just to boot it up and see what I can do with it but also the hardware itself.

What really pulled me to this subject is the fact that you can build unique and useful things,  even with a very basic understanding. And that is a very powerful attractive force that completely pulled me into this.

How did your career start after graduation?

I started my career at Oracle India in 2009, worked there for a bit over three years before moving to Germany for an M.Sc. in software technology. My early career was focused on Oracle technologies, especially databases. This is where I got to build intimate knowledge about the deep architectural structures for these highly complex enterprise databases.

What was even more interesting is the department I worked for provided cutting edge Oracle technologies as grants to schools, colleges and universities across India, which allowed me to interact and observe what other students and researchers did from different fields utilizing Oracle grants in their work.

As you mentioned, you moved to Germany for your master’s, studying at the University of Applied Sciences in Stuttgart. Why did you decide upon Stuttgart?

I always wanted to gain some experience studying and working in a completely different environment which is what got me interested in looking outside in the first place.

Germany has a very formidable list of universities at surprisingly affordable prices – which stood out to me when considering all the other universities. Something I could afford with my short time earnings.. haha!

Apart from that, it opened very interesting opportunities like working a student job at Bosch Engineering and then later also doing my master’s thesis in data security there.

And also another cool thing was to get the opportunity to work on a side project at the High-Performance computing lab, HLRS Lab, which is located on the Stuttgart University campus. This was my first time up and close with huge rigs mounted with hundreds of GPUs and a Cray Supercomputer.

How did your career develop in Germany?

My professional career in Germany started, while still in the software engineering space, in a completely different area. I got the opportunity to start with CAD and manufacturing design software which allowed me to have my first close glimpse of how things as big as trains, tunnel boring machines, game controllers, and scientific equipment at research labs to as small as nuts and bolts are designed and how these thousands, in some cases close to million, parts of a machine are managed. I tell you the data set size of a few of these things can easily go several GBs of data, versioning and managing those is just an amazingly complicated task.

While getting comfortable with this, I learnt that my employer, PTC, had acquired a new product and was expanding their manufacturing software offering with something called ThingWorx, an IoT platform – allowing their customers to build physical things and then connect them to their Digital Twin representation. That allowed customers to feed in the real-time usage of their hardware into the hardware design process for design and several other enhancements. This sounded extremely interesting for me and I moved first to the support team within PTC learning about IoT, its applications. This interest only got more serious from that point on – I then joined an early-stage team, still within PTC, to help set up a developer’s community across the EU, Asia and Japan. Also, got myself certified as an instructor which allowed me to deliver IoT training online and in person at customer sites.

Taking this even further, I again moved internally to join a consulting team as a Senior IoT Architect, opening up access to some very interesting projects with some of the world’s biggest manufacturers in their space (like EOS, Infineon, Liebherr & BMW) adopting digitalization at different levels.

I wanted to make it even more interesting and challenging for myself, so in 2019 I left PTC to join Vestergaard, a Denmark-based state-of-the-art ground support equipment manufacturer for aircraft. I joined them to enable their vision of IoT enabled vehicles for smart and connected services. This allowed me to bring all my experience to build IoT enabled product offerings from scratch for their new and existing vehicles operating globally.

You founded Scurid in September 2020, working on blockchain agnostic distributed identity for IoT devices. Could you tell us about this space and why you decided to start your own company to work in it?

While working on several different IoT projects I often saw users, in this case, IoT software developers, struggling with getting the right kind of security implemented on hardware. Often they ended up building custom and complicated security solutions that required a lot of manual attention and posed upgrade challenges. While there are some good off the shelf software in the market that can be used, it often leads to vendor lock with lacking integration in IoT systems and analytics platforms.

We also keep in mind that IoT, while not being a completely new concept, has evolved a lot and that means a lot of new platforms, features are being offered to IoT developers at a really high rate. So keeping up with all of that and with the core business requirements, security is often overlooked.

And the more these edge systems become autonomous in nature the higher the need for trust in these systems.

The end result is that while there are tons of options in the market, we are lacking a well rounded, easy to use pluggable security platform for IoT devices that can integrate vertically and horizontally within the IoT ecosystem without being a limiting factor in an otherwise fast-paced IoT world. And a need for such a security system that does not compromise privacy is also highlighted among the top headwinds hindering the growth of IoT in McKinsey in their recent report ‘The accelerating value of the Internet of Things.

And I, always looking for ways to be useful, found my calling in this mission.

Scurid’s architecture has been designed for developers to max the bang for their buck. It is a distributed digital identity platform that scales with its users’ needs without limiting their current and future development and operational needs for their IoT enabled hardware. And while doing so we ensure that our users do not lose control of critical identity data to us or to any other 3rd party. They (our customers) are always in full control of their device’s identity data and the privacy of their operations.

It is a hard problem to solve and requires a great amount of unwavering focus, but getting it right will positively contribute to this 4th wave of scientific advancement happening via AI, biotech and nanotech – IoT’s a key contributor to the overall progress.

This is why I started Scurid to build trust in autonomous systems.

What would you say are the key lessons you’ve learned as a startup founder so far? What has been more difficult than you expected? What’s been easier?

This is my first time getting into the startup ecosystem and so every day is a grind with a ton of learnings. But if I had to pick one, I’d say getting ideas across varied audiences is something I need to learn and perfect.

What I found surprisingly working is people are actually ready to help – something I didn’t expect also because I am a bit reserved in my nature which I am also trying to adjust. But it is amazing how many people have helped me so far both within my existing network and outside of it.

On to Japan. Tell us a little about your interest in Japan and what moving here means to you. Could you also tell us a little bit about your experience with Shibuya Startup Support?

I have travelled to Japan three times so far, and this pre-dates my decision to move to Japan for establishing a startup. I fell in love during my first trip itself. There are a lot of commonalities in our cultures i.e. between India and Japan. What strikes me the most about Japanese culture is the way they have managed to preserve its core values despite being among the topmost advanced countries in the world.

When I first learnt about Shibuya Startup Support via Miho Tanaka on a Clubhouse chat room run by Business in Japan by Jason Ball and Paul Chapman – it just lit up my eyes. As a foreigner, I needed such an organization to help start building some very basic understanding of metadata on how things even start in Japan.

Ever since I connected with Miho-san she has been amazingly helpful and patient with hundreds of questions I had. She explained the steps that were needed for me as a foreigner on how to apply to Shibuya Startup Support for getting started. She has been absolutely instrumental in guiding me through the process of COE and the company registration.

That’s great to hear! (You can read my interview with Miho-san here)

So, what does a typical day look like for you?

I’m still waiting for borders to open up so I can travel to Japan. Until that happens, I organize my local time a bit with the latter half of JST hours.  So generally my day starts way too early so I can have calls with my co-founder and other team members or any calls that must happen during JST time.

After that, I start with engineering and design work towards enhancing existing product features for the Scurid stack which I then start to implement by mid-day. After some break, I go for a late evening run, and afterwards dinner and then back to the final phase of the day with some more work and non-work related reading.

Hopefully, you can get to Japan sooner rather than later.

What are some of your goals for the future? Personally and/or professionally?

  • Very short term goal is to get the office going in Tokyo to establish a permanent base of operations
  • Short term, we are working on some new exciting features for the Scurid stack – some are already announced at the start of this year, some are going to come out in a month or so
  • We are very lucky to have a few customers already using the Scurid stack to draw value. We want to take the opportunity and the momentum to further increase the customer base in Japan. For this, we are in talks with a few that are looking promising.

Quickfire questions

– the most important piece of advice you’d give to someone thinking about starting their own company?

Find useful problems to work on, research about it and get an MVP ready as quickly as possible.

– how do you learn new skills?

Before starting with the new skill, I generally spend a lot of time reading about and around it, sometimes even too much 😛  – to see what is it that I can do immediately to adopt it, and secondly to see what is it that I need to drop/or reduce to start using that skill if I can’t just plug it in.

– tell me a few of your favourite or most recently read books, movies, podcasts, games?

Books: Tao of Physics by Fritjof Capra , Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky, How to Solve It by George Pólya and pretty much all of the books from Prof. Michio Kaku -though I am yet to get my hands on the last two from him.

Games: Anno 2070, Ghost Recon’s The Division – beyond computer games I generally love all physical activities, running, badminton or playing cricket

Movies: The Rum Diary, most of the Marvel movies, iRobot, & Kahaani (Bollywood)

Podcasts: 99% Invisible, Huberman Lab, Lex Fridman Podcast

– what are you most looking forward to experiencing as a new resident of Japan? Any sights/places/foods/etc.?

Three things that are big on my mind 

  • Setting up Scurid’s office in one of those nice areas in Tokyo surrounded by high rises and cafes. 🙂 – find those areas filled with all the hustle and bustle  – super energetic!
  • Visiting northern Japan, something I missed in all of my previous trips
  • Climbing Mount Fuji again to see the sunrise, something I couldn’t do during my last climb due to heavy rain and fog

Cool. And finally, do you have any ask from our readers, for example, who are you interested to connect with when you get to Tokyo?

I’m a bit of a shy person, so if you see me just come and chat up. If you love sports I’d love to join, always looking for partners to play badminton with or if you are interested in physics or otherwise tech I would love to learn from you and geek out over a glass of whisky or beer or coffee or whatever. 🙂

Thank you very much for taking the time to speak with me, Sushant. Looking forward to catching up with you face-to-face in Tokyo in 2022.

Interested to connect with Sushant? You can reach him via LinkedIn, Twitter, and the Scurid website.

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